Former GI stands trial in Germany for death of infant son
WüRZBURG, Germany — Three-month-old Isaiah Rucker lay propped up on pillows, slurping his milk from a bottle as his father — a 21-year-old former soldier named Vada Rucker — smoked a cigarette and dressed for his job at the Würzburg Army Hospital before 5 a.m. on May 27, 2004.
Then, according to his testimony in a German court, Rucker heard the baby make a “gargling” sound and saw him spitting up bloody milk through his nose. He tried blowing in the boy’s mouth and pressing his chest.
“I didn’t know what to do,” Rucker testified Monday. “I was trying to remember what I learned in the military.”
After three panicky phone calls with his wife, Spc. Corinne Montanez, he jumped in his car and rushed the little boy from their off-base home in the nearby village of Kürnach to the hospital. Montanez, then a soldier in the Würzburg-based 67th Combat Support Hospital, had gone there herself half an hour earlier because she felt ill. She met her son and husband at the emergency-room door.
By the time Rucker and his son got to the hospital, Isaiah Rucker was dead, found by doctors to have suffered multiple skull and rib fractures. Two days later, Vada Rucker was arrested and has been held in a Würzburg jail ever since.
This week he is on trial, charged with unpremeditated murder, mistreating a child, and harming a child in a way that caused death. The trial is scheduled to continue through July 20.
Rucker is being tried by a panel of five German judges, two of whom are civilians, who will determine his guilt or innocence and, if necessary, his sentence. His lawyer, Norman Jacob, said the maximum possible sentence is 15 years.
Dr. Martin Bauer, a pathologist who examined Isaiah, testified he died from bleeding to the brain caused by three skull fractures, which almost certainly were inflicted within two hours before the baby died.
Besides a fractured skull and ribs, Bauer also found bleeding in the infant’s eyeballs but few outside bruises.
All these injuries, Bauer testified, are hallmarks of “shaking impact syndrome,” in which a baby is both shaken and slammed against a hard, flat surface. Because babies’ bones are soft, he said, they rarely break in falls or accidents. He said Isaiah had suffered more severe fractures than any other baby he had ever examined.
“We know that somebody is responsible for the death of your child,” the chief judge (who according to German custom is not identified in court) told Rucker at the conclusion of Bauer’s testimony. “According to the time line, it has to be you or your wife.”
Montanez, however, has said she will not appear in court. She left the Army shortly after her son’s death and is now living in Albany, N.Y. A friend of the couple who testified Wednesday, Spc. Jacquia Lee, 21, of the 67th CSH, said Montanez told her it is because she doesn’t have a passport or a plane ticket to come to Germany.
Lee, Rucker, and his then-mistress, Sandra Walter, 25, of Kürnach, testified about Rucker’s troubled marriage. Rucker and Walter began dating shortly after he was assigned to Kitzingen as a single soldier in August 2001 and continued an off-and-on sexual relationship even while he dated and married Montanez.
Rucker said he began seeing Montanez in early 2003. She had an abortion after becoming pregnant with his child in February of that year. That summer, Rucker was forced to leave the Army after he knocked Montanez unconscious during a fight when she discovered him in bed with Walter.
But Montanez again had become pregnant with his child, and this time they decided to marry. He returned to Germany — and to his relationship with Walter. He acknowledged frequent arguments with his wife, who suspected his affair. Rucker and Montanez had quarreled loudly the night before Isaiah’s death.
“I think she wanted [Rucker] all to herself,” Lee testified. “She didn’t want to share.”